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Interfaith: Large American Religious Organizations Come Together in Dearborn

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Dearborn—October 23—Conversion or convincing can never be the point of interfaith dialogue, rather it is to reduce mistrust and alienation, to build love and trust, and to work together on issues of mutual interest. This seems to be the thread of thought that binds those who participated in last weekend’s meeting of high-level Muslims and Catholics in Dearborn Michigan.

The theme of last week’s conference was “the mission of Muslim-Catholic Dialogue in the USA.” They met from Sunday October 21 through Tuesday morning, October 23, 2007; the event was hosted by the Islamic Center of America on Ford Road in Dearborn, which is believed to be the biggest mosque in America.

The “Midwest Regional Muslim-Catholic Dialogue” has continued now for eleven years, and has enlisted the involvement of high level Muslim leaders and Catholic clergy, including among many others Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom, Dr. Shahid Athar, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director of ISNA, and many influential Catholic clergymen including Bishop Francis R. Reiss of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Reverend Thomas Murphy, and Prof. John Borelli of Georgetown University, a leading Catholic expert on interreligious relations.

TMO tried to reach Dr. Syeed for comment but he was unavailable due to a speaking engagement.

Issues of real controversy are not on the agenda of these meetings. For instance, the September 2006 reading by the pope of an anti-Muslim statement was not discussed and not put on the agenda. Explains Dr. Athar, “No, that was not on the agenda, because it was an old statement.”

Says Dr. Athar, “the event is not political… not really; there are a lot of disagreements and a lot of areas of agreement, but we are not trying to come up with a common solution to theological differences—It would be naïve to say we will 100% solve our differences.”

Dr. Athar also spoke on this theme in his presentation to the group, explaining the necessity of developing a clear mission for these meetings and emphasizing that such meetings must not be for the purpose of converting or convincing one another.

Imam Mohammed Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights said in an interview with TMO that “this is a very educational, very sincere group, the Christians and the Muslims, and they are very serious about these discussions.”

Prominent Muslims and Catholics were present at the event and many of them spoke. Among the many notables present were Imam Qazwini, the imam of ICA, the venue for the event, himself from a prominent and influential family originally from Iraq, Dr. Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies program at Catholic Theological Union, and Bishop Francis R. Reiss.

Explains Dr. Athar, “We don’t want to go into controversy… Even the so-called controversial statements that come out from one side or the other open the door for dialogue—dialogue is good for the society we live in and the world we live in.”

Imam Elahi summed up the impetus for this meeting very well. “This is something that we really need in this world. Some crazy guys talk about war and bringing threats and intimidation in international relationships. We need people of good conscience, with fear of Allah in their hearts, they choose a different way—of visiting one another, and meeting with one another, and talking and listening with patience and humbleness, and willing to learn from one another.”


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